Auditing the Auditor General

calculator-1180740_1280.jpg“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any man, family or class of men.” John Adams.

Our Founding Fathers knew human nature, especially how easily government power can corrupt those entrusted with it. Serving in public office is supposed to be service, not a profit-making enterprise. But for some, the perks and the money blind them to this purpose.

The people of Illinois have seen more than their fair share of corrupt politicians, who bend and often break the rules to pad their wallets. Governors Blagojevich and Ryan are the most prominent recent examples, but we’ve also suffered a flood of legislators, aldermen, and other local officials who have been corrupted by public “service.”

We’ve got a new scandal brewing in Springfield. This one involves the state’s Auditor General, Frank Mautino—the public official whose entire job is ensuring honest, transparent, and effective operation of Illinois government. Our state constitution created the office of Auditor General, in large part to protect the people’s tax dollars from theft, misdirection, and waste.

Prior to becoming Auditor General, Mautino was a state representative for 24 years, rising to Deputy Majority Leader and acting as one of Speaker Mike Madigan’s chief lieutenants. But shortly after becoming Auditor General in January, numerous irregularities in Mautino’s campaign funds were uncovered by watchdogs and good government groups.

It turns out, Mautino made payments averaging over $20,000 per year, for 11 years, to a local gas station owned by a city alderman, for alleged “gas” and “repairs” to his automobile. At the same time, Mautino received tens of thousands of dollars in travel reimbursements from the taxpayers of the State of Illinois.

He also averaged almost $400 per month on “campaign meals,” including roughly $33,000 spread over 500 trips to his wife’s restaurant, Alfano’s Little Sicily. There are many other suspicious items on his spending reports, but the real kicker is over $250,000 in alleged campaign payments to his local bank, when the campaign loans reported from the bank only amounted to $26,000.

When you see all this spending by a representative, you’d expect to see some pretty tough re-election campaigns. Except Mautino was either unopposed or very lightly opposed for most of his elections over the last decade.

After months of trying to get answers from Mautino and his lawyers privately, this past week, I joined 20 members of the General Assembly to publicly demand a full explanation and all documents related to these irregular spending items. You see, Mautino has hired a skilled criminal defense attorney—a former federal prosecutor, who served as the U.S. Attorney for Springfield—to defend against our inquiry and another public inquiry by the State Board of Elections. There is also speculation that the FBI and IRS may be looking into this spending, and Mautino’s spokesman has refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether federal investigations are pending.

At this point, we don’t know whether the campaign dollars went to enrich family members and political cronies, or were given in exchange for some political or other favors, or whether some funds were skimmed off the top for personal use—or if all the expenditures, however suspicious-looking, were legitimate campaign items. Without all the documents and a full explanation, we just don’t know.

People often ask me whether we’ll be able to clean up Illinois. It’s disheartening when the Auditor General, the constitutional officer charged with auditing Illinois government, can’t even explain his own records promptly and forthrightly. The only way forward is to seek out every single instance of corruption and self-dealing, and to shine a bright spotlight on every dark corner of Illinois politics.